If I wasn’t 100 percent at home with the label womanist, I wouldn’t apply it to my blackness. Labels… ugh. I only use them to define what already exists within me, not to gain faux accolades or activate unneeded power plays for prestige. I'll use them to perhaps find my kin folk, similar thinkers, my tribe. In any case, I'm not a slave to any label, and if you observe me decidedly using one, it's solely for explaining my personal narrative…nothing more, nothing less.
You see, I was missing something from mainstream feminism for so long, and I really wanted to ignore that emptiness…but it was gnawing at me. Mainstream feminism as it stands today is steeped in white-washed tall tales of inclusion of all women, whilst categorically ignoring every issue that white privilege is lucky to allude. Revisionist history puts white women as the originators and great fighters for all of us. White Feminism is anti-patriarchal, yet dead set on replicating the same type of hierarchy it uses in all women spaces that both oppresses and silences black women and other women of color.
But it is black women who have also set the example for many white suffragettes and modern day feminists long before these white suffragette movements thought about forming and pushing away everything in order for their rights to manifest. Black Women were, by instinct and forced obligation, showcasing the possibility of pushing through anything and creating greatness out of nothing to white women.
Many white women learned strength from watching black women be everything to everyone in the midst of harsh systematic racist oppression. An oppression that gave privilege to their whiteness, positioning them as benefactors and dependents; thereby protectors of the continuance of white supremacy at large.
White suffragists' desire for voting rights and equal treatment to white men led them to grossly use their status as white to debase and ignore black women desiring to stand in solidarity with them, black women who were working toward not only suffrage but also freedom from racism and sexism. Yes, black suffragists were treated with vicious racism and cast aside by middle-class white suffragettes; many of whom were ironically self-proclaimed abolitionists.
See, a good number of white people were against slavery, but they didn't want black people to be equal to them or black men to get to vote before white women; this caused their real feelings about black people to be laid bare…that’s the real tea! This same bigoted spirit is abounding amongst too many of their descendants, white feminists who are always spinning these blatant lies that say, “we’re all in this together.”
“The white men, reinforced by the educated white women, could ‘snow under’ the Negro vote in every State, and the white race would maintain its supremacy without corrupting or intimidating the Negroes. - Laura Clay (Founder of Kentucky’s First Suffragette Movement)
When white feminists call out the names of their racist suffragette ancestors with glee, names such as Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Laura Clay, demanding that my beautiful black sisters and I pour out their bottles of white tears as libation with them, I become enraged and don't want any parts of the charade. White women of the past and present, too many in fact, are continually and unapologetically denying the truths of black women and other women of color and the reality of our issues that have many intersections. Oppressive systematic racism creates hierarchy; not all women are equally oppressed, and white women have the most privilege of all. For white feminists, men are the big nemesis… for a Black Woman like me, white men and women are equally oppressive… Then add in my gender, my nonmainstream spirituality, my not so clear cut fluid or stationary sexual nature… It’s a lot!
Oppressive systematic racism creates hierarchy; not all women are equally oppressed, and white women have the most privilege of all. For white feminists, men are the big nemesis. For a black woman like me, white men and women are often equally oppressive. Then add in my gender, my nonmainstream spirituality, my not-so-clear-cut fluid or stationary sexual nature… it’s a lot!
There is a pressure in feminist circles to make black women water down and sometimes completely drown out our BLACKNESS in order to be a part of their mirage and to prove we believe that women's rights are important, and our denial of our truths, and the overuse of our ingenuity, acceptable sacrifice for the good of ALL women. We’re all equally oppressed, right? Wrong.
I used to think that I could just call myself a black feminist to carve out intentional and thoughtful space in these heavily European-centered mainstream feminist movements. It's a self-determination that many amazing black women have made whilst affecting so much change and legacy. It seems white feminists have a way of dwindling the greatness of those undeniable giants to fit their feats in a light that downcasts their blackness and to translate the truths and power of great black women feminists.
Black feminist theory is a part of me… My womanism overlaps with it in so many ways, though I see distinctions. I love and respect black feminism, but that title doesn’t seem to be a sure fit for me. Something is still missing. Yet and still, I need accuracy. If I have to explain myself in terminology, I want it to be as close to my inward reality as possible.
It was/is the unapologetic disregard of women of color in feminist spaces that first alerted my soul that my love couldn’t be steady within the illusionary walls of feminism. Those spaces were steeped in erasure of people like me, A black woman who has systematic racist oppression to be concerned about every moment of every day. This is a reality for me and my entire community: women, men, teens, children, feminine, masculine, non-identifying, combination energies, straight, fluid, LGBTQIA, no label, old, young, middle-aged, ageless; all of us dipped in this beautiful blacknes, our intersections included.
I become alive in the words of Alice Walker, who coined the term womanism and defined it extensively as being Womanish. In short, Alice Walker beautifully describes a woman-centered sphere of choice and rights, where black women reject patriarchy and center our issues within the framework of the entire black community. It’s a state of woman-centered living that is not steeped in European framework because we have our own. Our narrative, our needs and our desires have a safe haven and sacred tabernacle in womanism.
Womanism has a warmth and healing feel to it because it promotes healing of the entire African Diaspora and continent. Women’s issues, dismantling patriarchy, having women and our unparalleled power at the center of the entire community whilst balancing, and in many cases initiating, our rightful place as equal with men — all of this is central in womanism. More than just an internal heart position, but a community heartbeat that puts us all in position through the proper centering of she/her.
When I first became aware of Alice Walker's definition of womanism, I exhaled. I loved it deeply. Womanism was and still is more like me. It's a label that properly defines my intrinsic nature, beautifully complimenting my understanding of having originality running through my veins. It connected me to a source and our shared truths as nuanced African people(s) — our triumphs, and our woes.
As a freedom fighter, creative, and healer, a person who sees themselves not only as interconnected with other black women and our issues, but with our entire community as well. Womanist is me, I am a womanist. Womanism is a way of life, an inclination from spirit that understands that no one will take care of us and chart our way properly but us. It requires me to respond and dedicate myself to making sure more of that process happens in my lifetime. That’s womanish. That’s exactly what it is.
There have been several great Black Women who have added critical theory to what womanism is, such as the great Lenora Hudson-Weems (USA) or Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi (Nigeria), both adding imperative dimensions and levels of understanding, colors and dimensions. I am so grateful for these elder-warrioresses, I honor their breaths. However, I don't agree with all they have concluded on every aspect of their similar, yet distinct interpretations of womanism.
For example, Dr. Weems seems to feel that we, as womanists, must put our blackness before our womanhood. I disagree on this point because my people need me to be a whole black woman. My womanhood will heal my people and work to dismantle patriarchy in me and my community. My blackness cannot be separated from my feminine because both are part of my divinity; therefore, it is out of place to even suggest I honor one above the other. They are one with me.
What I love about Dr. Weems and Chikwenye Ogunyemi’s womanist theories, is the emphasis they put on the interconnected global African aspect and the cooperative economics and responsibility needed amongst us. I often say that white supremacy is interconnected globally, therefore, our unification as African People could better dismantle this oppressive system in lasting ways. womanism, or Africana womanism in their specific cases, really emphasizes casting off selfishness through seeing yourself as each other. To me, womanism is the bolder shade of black feminism. As Alice Walker said: “Womanism is to feminism, as purple is to lavender.”
So, how does womanism, which seems more exclusive than black feminism, help the pulse of the world? Don’t we want all people to have freedom and be equal? Well, I htink black people are the original drum cadence, and oppression has thrown our rhythm off. Everyone in the world relies on hearing our cadence to sync theirs to ours, because their cadence has our basic structure. The whole world mimics what we do, even though it isn’t always at the right intervals, speed or timbre. The more we can break free of the oppression placed upon us and that now is embedded in our DNA, the more the entire vibration of the planet will synch and become more steady. Have you ever heard the phrase “Take care of home first?” Well that is the heartbeat of the womanist… A womanist wants harmony and healing for their people, and realizes that aiding in that happening means good things for the entire planet.
Patriarchy, sexism and every other oppressive behavior that Black Women face from Black Men, must be dismantled in order for us to thrive together. Womanism, in my mind's eye, takes the stance of re-building our culture holistically, which includes the dismantling of patriarchy. It is not something we can wait to correct "when racism ends.” No, we must correct it now and every time it shows up until we can get closer to our original and untampered cadence. We must do all of this labor of love in the mindset of a community. I want to be the best woman I can be as I glow in this blackness: free, open, holy, profane, giving, strong, vulnerable; not just for me, but for my people as well.
I understand that those who choose to label themselves as black feminists; this is very important to them, just as womanist is my accurate descriptor; thereby very important to me. I appreciate those who identify as black feminists because they are purposely setting up the stones of remembrance in mainstream feminist spaces.
White women learned strength from watching black women carry on, take care of them, work on their plantations and nurse their children. Black women are their womanist and feminist sheroes, whether they want to admit it or not. So sis, you who identify as black feminists, I support and love you! If you are propelling our people forward and toward freedom, then that is all that matters! We all have to work according to what has been placed in us, and we all have a job/calling to do on this side of life. Words and labels? Ugh. What matters most is the truth, heart, intention and how we act on all three. Define yourself as you will, but as for me…
I am a womanist.
ORIT is a Lover of G-D / Freedom Fighter/Author/ Poet/ Wordsmith/ Healer/ Performing Artist (Singer-Actress-Dancer) / Sarcasm Connoisseur/ Humor Enthusiast/ among many other things. She is uniquely of Pan-African (African-American and Ethiopian Jewish ) descent, and currently resides outside of Columbus, Ohio. ORIT has a passion for unfiltered truth, and helping people in real ways.
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A few years ago, Eboni Merriman hosted a girls-night-in for a few friends visiting from Florida. What she didn’t know is that their conversations would result in her running her own jewelry company.
Merriman is the founder of Lost Queens, a jewelry company dedicated to letting women feel “unapologetically free” with every piece. Founded in 2014, Lost Queens has grown immensely. Their pieces have been seen on stars such as Orange is the New Black actress Vicky Jeudy, and Love and Hip Hop star Tara Wallace.
Merriman always loved fashion, but it was a journey to get there.
"I was a kid growing up in Queens," she says. "I used to rip pages out of my magazines and get in trouble for sketching fashion illustrations,”
She even started her first jewelry line at the age of 16 called Ancient Beauty Collections, but the business flopped. She tried many other roles throughout the years as a fashion design major, blogger, freelance writer and office assistant. However, those roles never quite felt right and depression started to hit.
"I had really good jobs on my resume," she says, "But I couldn’t keep the job because I was depressed. My depression got the best of me. It would hard for me to get out of bed. I would call out frequently.”
When she felt like she was going to lose her job, she decided to sell items on eBay to save some money. Later on, Merriman hosted her friends and the conversation of women came up.
"As they came to visit, I was talking on how society views women, the limit they put on us," she says, "So I just went for it and bought the domain name. I had the idea and the sisterhood just being around my friends, it just felt right."
Throughout the process of creating Lost Queens, Merriman was inspired by strong women. In fact, she got the name from Pharell's song, "Lost Queen," in which he describes a supernatural woman who he feels is from another planet and who he wants to serve. The song also helped Merriman cope with depression.
"I just took it as a self-love kind of thing," she says, "I don’t need anyone to validate me. I don’t have to wait for anyone to bring me flowers. I can do this for myself. Because we tend to lose that. That Queen. That part we push to the side to tend to daily life. I wanted to reclaim once again.”
The theme of unapologetic women even goes to the jewelry pieces themselves, for they are named after women such as Assata Shakur, Tracee Ellis Ross, and even Michelle Obama.
"From the very beginning, I knew that one of the premises of the brand I wanted to have is each piece to be named after a queen," Merriman says, "At first, it was queens in general. Goddesses, Greek Goddesses. But when the second collection came out, I did domestic violence victims. I wanted to name my pieces after them. That made me think of naming all my pieces after black women. I’m a black woman. This is my experience. This is the experience of my friends of my family. It had to be authentic. I was sourcing names and it wasn’t connecting for me. Of course, there were a lot of Goddesses and Queens out there. But I wasn’t connecting with the piece unless it was a black woman.”
Even though each piece is named after an influential black woman, Eboni Merriman wants every kind of black woman, from the bougie to the afro-centric to the hood chick and all in between, to feel empowered by her pieces. That’s what being unapologetically free means to her.
"I think black women, specifically, are told to be a certain way," she says, "You know they have the wars, the Cardi Bs against the Ayesha Currys. Or how women are supposed to be one thing. I don’t subscribe to any of that. They expect me to be very afro-centric, very hippie, very positive and I am those things of course. But I”m not those things all the time. Women are so multilayered that we don’t need a box. I could be hood one day. I could be prim and proper the next minute. I can be anything at any time. Women can be anything at any time. And I want lost queens to be a celebration of that,” she says.
As for her journey to being an unapologetically free woman? It’s ongoing, thanks to her work with the company.
"I feel like Lost Queens is definitely my journey into falling in love with myself. I love it because all of the collections, all of the campaigns are just like true to where I’m at in my life. So, it kinda grows with me,” she says.
Eboni Merriman, Photo: Instagram.com/lost.queens
On Saturday, May 21st, we’re hosting our inaugural conference about how creativity and technology are changing our daily lives, from our hobbies to our work. Will you be joining us? Tickets here.
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Hooray, it’s Women's History Month -- a time where we celebrate the historic achievements women have made around the globe! It’s also the perfect excuse for reading up on some amazing women whose lives prove that well behaved women seldom make history. My grandmother always told me that if you wanted to know something, you go to the source, and how closer to the source can one get than an autobiography? Silence and erasure are the violent attempts that have been on Black Women and their narratives, but the autobiographies written -- at times when they could be killed for it -- stand in affirmation of the fact that we can neither be silenced nor erased. While the list of pioneering women is perpetually expanding, here are a handful of women whose lives, as they wrote them, you should read up on.
1. Ida B Wells Barnett
Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells Barnett is a trailblazer. This daughter of former slaves was not confined by a society that attempted to refuse her her rights. When she was roughly removed from a segregated train car, she bit the hand of the conductor, sued the train company, and won. This fighting spirit would lead her to not only became the champion of anti-lynching—a job that put her life in constant danger—but she was the country’s first (voluntarily) working mother, owner of a newspaper, and the force behind some of the oldest and most respected organizations today (i.e. NAACP). Mrs. Wells Barnett showed that a woman does not have to chose between her feminist fight and desires to be a wife and mother.
2. Sojourner Truth
The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth is the woman who, when tired of the back-and-forth of white men and women over gender equality, stood up at the Akron [feminist convention] and questioned the definition of a woman. That moving speech went on to be edited and rewritten over time but the essences of Sojourner’s truth remains. She was not only questioning gender norms, but she was inserting herself and countless of other black women who toiled land while also nursing babies because aren’t they, too, women?
3. Harriet Ann Jacobs
Incidents in Life of a Slave Girl
In 1861 Harriet Ann Jacobs became an anomaly of the mainstream idea of black women. Not only did she write an autobiography, at a time when it was illegal for black slaves to read, but she self-published her tale of tragedy and triumph as a fugitive slave mother. Jacobs provided added to the growing publishing of slave narratives, but her story allowed a perspective of what such a life of forced servitude was for a black woman. For protection Jacobs self-published under a pseudonym, but today her name proudly sits upon her work of audacious bravery.
4. Zora Neale Hurston
Dust Tracks on a Road
Zora Neale Hurston was a true vanguard. Though a writer during the Harlem Renaissance, she was not a subscriber to the “New Negro” logic. Hurston had a pride to herself that came from growing up in Eatonville, Florida, the first all black incorporated town in the United States. Self-pride, Eatonville, and a sense of adventure would lead Hurston to become the most important Black American folklorist. She made others uncomfortable with her honesty, but her commitment, and love, for her culture and people left behind a legacy of self-empowerment.
5. Angela Davis
Angela Davis: an Autobiography
At 25 Angela Davis’ was one of the FBI’s most wanted. She was a fugitive, fleeing arrest for her so-called connection to the Soledad Brothers’ shooting that left several people dead. After being caught, arrested, and charged, Davis’ story ignited the world. Her eventual acquittal and fight against white-supremacy and the prison industrial complex was a catalyst that helped sparked the global attention to an eminent Black Power Movement that would eventually sweep the nation. Toni Morrison urged Davis to write an autobiography. Davis’ reveals how a young girl from Birmingham, Alabama became one of the world’s greatest champions for civil rights.
6. Assata Shakur
Assata: an Autobiography
Assata Shakur remains one of the FBI’s most wanted and a controversial figure who continues to spark debate. When the United States recently set about reconciling its turbulent relationship with Cuba, one of the first things that was instantly debated was the fate of Assata Shakur. After breaking free from prison and escaping a sentence that charged her with the death of a police officer, Black Panther Party Member, Assata Shakur, fled to Cuba where she continues to speak on police brutality, race, and revolution.
7. Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
There is a reason why Maya Angelou is a common inspiration amongst most of today’s prominent artists. A poet, a Filmmaker, a Dancer, Angelou taught a generation of people the power of self-love and voice. She offered an arsenal of beautiful verses for black women to arm themselves with while traversing a world steeped in misogynoir. Angelou’s words continue to show not only black women, but the world, just how magical we are.
8. Audre Lorde
Zami: a New Spelling of my Name
Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer whose work continuously questioned gender, sexuality, race, and health. She was an intersectional feminist who boldly spoke up for the voices of black women who were often shut out of such conversations. Lorde sought out to revolutionize and reclaim what white-supremacy had distorted and perverted (read her essay “Uses of the Erotic”). She left behind an inspirational legacy of walking in one’s truth.
9. bell hooks
Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood
bell hooks is a feminist writer who has long held black people, especially black women, at the center of her work. She has examined love, patriarchy, the prison system, and her own experiences growing up as a girl in the south. Her words are biting, her truth raw. hooks is no stranger to controversy.
10. Anita Hill
Speaking Truth to Power
Anita Hill made history in the infamous sexual harassment case broadcasted to the world. Hill’s accounts of, then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment against her was a truth that sparked debates on race, gender, and sexual harassment. After such a grueling trial, of which Thomas was cleared of any wrongdoing, Hill continued to be a pioneering voice for sexual harassment in the workplace. Her audacity to speak up and tell the truth--cost what it may--allowed her voice to be a bullhorn for an issue that had long been ignored.
11. Nikki Giovanni
Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet
Nikki Giovanni is a poet whose language encapsulates the diverse rhythms of black life and love. Her poems have called for justice, inspired children, and got her a Grammy nomination. She is a strong voice in the chorus of greats like James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and more.
What are some other must-read autobiographies? Share below!
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#BlackGirlMagic. You've probably heard the term by now, but what does it really mean? And why does the idea, rally cry, slogan and awesome t-shirt campaign upset some people? I started asking this question in December, and then Elle magazine gave me a reason to truly break down why #BlackGirlMagic is not only as important as #BlackLivesMatter — it might just be even more so.
First we should go to the beginning. In the '70s we had "Black Is Beautiful." It was a bold statement. A proclamation in the face of society viewing black women as one-dimensional beings. We were seen as jezebels. We were seen as hard. We "had attitude." How dare our mothers and aunties believe that their afro and big lips be considered anything close to beautiful?
Somewhere along the line we stopped believing it. We continued to shape-shift, adopt and adapt to societal norms. We relaxed our hair to tame it down. We lightened our skin to be fairer. We, kind of like Elsa in Frozen, hid our magic — we hid it under foundation that didn't quite match.
Social media has been a gift and a curse to us. We can connect like never before. We can also make demands of companies that didn't consider us a target demographic.
When I was growing up my dolls were all white. Not because my mom had a self-hate complex, but because that's all Mattel sold. Eventually, Barbie came to have a black friend named Christie and a Latina friend named Teresa. Finding a Cabbage Patch Doll that looked like me was like finding a needle in a haystack.
Fast forward to today. Mattel (due to demand from consumers) created a special edition Ava DuVernay doll. It sold out in 15 minutes. I saw coverage about this on every possible mainstream media outlet. What did that tell me? That our voices mean things when we use them. That the almighty dollar trumps the "target market." That people were so surprised and jumped on reporting it also showed just how clueless society is about black people.
We create BET, Blavity and 'The Wiz Live!' not to be racist, but because we crave to see ourselves in the light we know we live in. We are joyful, creative, amazingly talented and funny people. We're rarely given a fair opportunity to show it, so instead, we take it. We will make a dollar out of 15 cents. We will take the scraps of the animal and make a culinary delight. We have a strength that can move mountains and birth movements.
Serena Williams wins sportsperson of the year and people are mad. Rue in The Hunger Games is black (per the book) and people are really mad. There are black stars in Star Wars and well... we all know how that went. But it's more than that. When kids are sent home from school for celebrating themselves, when rapes are targeted and ignored, when mysterious deaths are stranger than fiction, when hashtags aren't enough — black girls and women have to push through so much.
#BlackGirlMagic is for every little girl who believes she can become a doctor because of cartoons like Doc McStuffins. It's for the little girl in Compton who sees the Williams sisters and knows she can make it out of the hood. It's for every Shonda and Ava, there are screenwriters and directors who SEE that they can bring their words to life.
So.....the Elsa costume? Didn't work for her. The Pirate? A no go. So she finally said," I just want to be YOU mommy"! So... uhh....this is ME.
A photo posted by Viola Davis (@violadavis) on Oct 31, 2015 at 7:24pm PDT
#BlackGirlMagic isn’t about dehumanizing black women, who are called upon time and time again to exercise super-human strength and ridiculous levels of forgiveness in the face of every "-ism" in the book. It’s for every girl who needs #YouOkSis when she’s harassed on the street. It's for the young women who are accused of being ##FastTailedGirls. #BlackGirlMagic wasn’t what killed Sandra Bland, it’s what got her name out there in the first place. #BlackGirlMagic wasn’t what put Marissa Alexander in prison, it’s what eventually got her out.
We lift up ourselves when no one else will do it for us. Because we must. For us now, and for the girls of the future. #BlackGirlMagic doesn’t have to be liked or embraced by everyone, but to strip it down and take it out of context does EXACTLY the opposite of what its goal and intention is: to uplift and to encourage. There IS no #BlackLivesMatter without black girls and women having a network of love and support.
RT @AlnzoXX: black girls, that love being black girls a little too much, irk me. pic.twitter.com/mdIVghM4gq
— Shani, B. (@melanaire_) July 18, 2015
But still, why magic? Because what else do you call it when you live in a place that devalues your very existence but still manage to rise? How else do you explain the grace of our elders — our aunties, our grannies — despite all they've been through and seen in their lifetimes? Who else can weather the storms from outside and within and age like we do?
Ain't no fairy dust here, just some good ol' #BlackGirlMagic.
What does #BlackGirlMagic mean to you? Let us know in the comments...
Willow Smith’s debut album Ardipithecus comes over six years after her introduction to the music scene. For many of us, her infectious pop hit “Whip My Hair” was a refreshingly innocent song featuring a black girl. Despite its popularity, many critics saw it as an overproduced track made possible by her famous parents. I’ll be the first to agree that even with her follow-up, “Do It Like a Me,” it was easy to denounce her efforts as the result of class privilege and fame.
But something has happened. Willow has consistently pushed the boundaries of young black womanhood through her aesthetic and musical inclinations. I took the time this past weekend to listen to all 15 tracks on the album. In “Not So Different” featuring Jabs, her frequent collaborator, I can hear some of the same emotions that I loved in Res’s classic “They Say Vision.” And as “F Q-C #7” builds to a crescendo, I can hear what I presume is the influence of Tune-yards “Bizness.” Beyond the beat, there are lyrics that speak to her appreciation of nature and investment in her personal independence. How many other contemporary artists of color are singing odes to the environment, Adventure Time’s Marceline — a fictional vampire girlfriend from Cartoon Network and stomping around in Nasa boilersuits and creepers in their music videos?
How did we get to this moment where a young woman like Willow Smith is not only featured in Marc Jacobs commercials but radically marching to the beat of her own drum. The pioneer that comes to mind is none other than Grace Jones.
All of her early releases were disco — incredibly danceable, palatable and mainstream. As disco decreased in popularity, Grace invested her energy in the burgeoning new-wave moment. With the release of Warm Leatherette, Jones extended the edge of what it meant to be a black woman in music at the time. Her aesthetic choices had always been boundary-crossing, but it was Warm Leatherette that opened up new avenues in her expression that rocked the industry and altered the gender terrain for black women.
While she diverges from Jones considerably as it relates to the hypersexualized adult that Grace has always been, Willow’s voice and her presentation say “I do whatever I want,” and perhaps more importantly, “I’m exploring.” The truth is that Willow Smith is gloriously unrefined. And her new album takes that to a totally different level.
It’s understandable that most of Willow’s critics lean heavily on the fact that the only reason we are hearing her album is because she is a 15-year-old millionaire. And I say, what does it matter? We are lucky because her work is advancing a history of black female eccentricity that is rare and needed.
For the female black eccentric creates space for all of us to evolve just a little bit more. And that is something to be celebrated.
Simone N. Sneed is a writer, organizer, and professor whose work centers around environmental conservation, racial justice and gender equity in the arts. Over the course of her career, she has used her skills to raise and deploy $25M in philanthropic capital, develop and lead high-performing social impact teams and influence the next generation of non-profit leaders. In addition to her day job in environmental conservation, she is the co-founder and director of the Uptown Upstate Arts Exchange. Founded in 2015, UUAX works to advance the influence and appreciation of female visual, literary and performing artists from uptown to upstate. Follow her on Twitter and...
Modern feminism has been a problematic movement since its inception. Starting in the first-wave, an overwhelming number of white women have discarded women of color in an attempt to create and maintain a world that benefits their own. While many believe this myopic ideology is becoming extinct, it seems to be ever-present, running rampant throughout mainstream white feminism.
In a string of tweets, Nicki Minaj charred MTV and the entire music industry for their lack of recognition of black female artists and their influence over the industry. After Taylor Swift attempted to "defend herself" from what she saw as an attack on her nomination, she utilized her recently learned feminism to criticize Minaj for her what she assumed to be divisive tactics. Those who have been curious as to whether or not Swift's feminism was spoonfed to her by problematic white feminists have their theories confirmed — it was. Her condescending response and quickness to center herself in a struggle black women are facing exemplifies the biggest problem with white feminism — the lack of intersectionality.
By definition, feminism focuses on social, political and economic equality for all women and men; that includes black women. While it might seem redundant to insist upon black women's place in feminism, it is necessary because of the constant denial we face.
The "isms" affecting black women are, at minimum, dual: sexism and racism.
So often, black feminists are urged by white feminists to check their race at the door, with white feminists insisting that sexism trumps racism. They are told that because of that, black women should direct most of their energy to fighting the patriarchy. However, black women are unable to physically divorce their identities. When we walk down the street, people don't just see a woman, they see a black woman. Because of that, we must fight against white supremacy and the patriarchy, two systems affecting both our pay and the stereotypes surrounding us. Despite the literature written on intersectionality, white feminism frequently overlooks the struggles black women face, showing minimal solidarity. Instead, they insist on branding feminism as something that is wholly theirs, void of major critique on racial injustice and racist discord.
Let me be clear, I don't think Taylor Swift is racist, I think she is a white feminist.
Taylor Swifts tweets are real examples of why #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen is not only needed, but relevant. White feminists seem to be more interested in freeing their nipples than a black woman's right to inquire why she is being arrested. As a collective unit, mainstream feminists don't vocally advocate for the right for black girls to live. Instead, they seem to be in a frenzy over the release of Amy Schumer's new movie.
Many have called for Swift's critics to lighten up, suggesting that there is no such thing as a perfect feminist. They are right, there is no such thing as a perfect feminist. However, being a "bad feminist" does not mean that you are allowed to ignore the struggles of black women. It does not mean that you can center your feelings in a discussion about a racist system that you benefit from. It does not mean that you can ignore the rampant police brutality aimed at the bodies of black women.
You don’t get to pick and choose which things you want equality in. If you are going to label yourself a feminist, you must advocate for equality for all, regardless of race.
This means freedom from homophobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism and classism. This means that you must push back against narratives that have a tendency to paint white women as victims and black women as jezebels, regardless of their crime. This means that you must advocate for the livelihood of transwomen who are so often overlooked by mainstream media because of transphobia.
We didn't ask for these systems of oppression to be created. But you [white feminists] asked to be a part of a movement that, by definition, is supposed to fight for all types of equality for all women. So stop being choosy of what you speak on and start embodying what feminism is all about.
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#BeingAFemaleInNigeria was trending on Twitter yesterday, and it shed light on how Nigerian women can be treated in their society. Their stories prove that society frequently demotes women to primal importance — being a wife and a vessel for bearing children — and denies them genuine self-worth and independence in the process.
Therefore, things such as seeking a higher education would be deemed foolish because apparently men don't want a smart woman. Living on one’s own would be mischievous. And turning down a man would be considered irrational.
Women are not considered victims, but the cause of their problems. For example, if your husband cheats on you, it’s not his fault, but yours for not pleasing him and giving him what he deserves. And women must stand idly by when they are sexually harassed either in the market or at the workplace.
And many did not hesitate to call out the Nigerian government for their lack of efforts to bring back the girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram. It just shows that women are seen as the lesser sex; the ones not worth saving.
Of course, there were a few men who barged in and said that the people speaking out were just women who liked to complain.
Typical — they choose to ignore women’s problems because they don’t want to be labeled as part of the problem. Nonetheless, the overwhelming amount of tweets pointing out sexism in Nigeria speak louder.
Here’s a roundup of some of the #BeingAFemaleInNigeria tweets that sum it up best.
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This weekend Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a biodiversity scientist, was sworn in as the sixth president and the first woman president of Mauritius, a small island nation off the cost of Madagascar.
For more info about Dr. Gurib-Fakim, check out her talk on biodiversity with TEDGlobal last year.
While Gurib-Fakim may be the first woman president elected for her country, she joins a growing number of women who have served as heads of state on the continent of Africa.
Pereira served as acting president of Guinea-Bissau from May 16-18, 1984, the first woman to do so in Africa, and the first and only woman to do so in Guinea-Biassau's history.
While Kinigi was prime minister of Burundi, beginning in July 1993, she also served as acting president of the country from October 1993 to February 1994. She is the first and only woman to hold those positions.
After the first Liberian Civil War, Perry was appointed as chairperson of the Council of the State of Liberia from September 1996 to August 1997. In doing so, Perry became both the first female president of Liberia and the first in Africa.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The present president of Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf, became the first woman elected head of state in Africa in January 2006.
Rose Francine Rogombé
Rogombé, who passed away in April of this year, was acting president of Gabon from June to October 2009.
Monique Ohsan Bellepeau
Ohsan Bellepeau has been vice president of Mauritius since 2010, but briefly took on the role of acting president from March to July 2012 and very recently from May 29-June 5 of this year, preceding the inauguration of Gurib-Fakim.
Banda has had a number of positions in Malawi. She was the minister of foreign affairs from 2006 to 2009, was vice president in 2009, and became the country's first female president from April 2012 to May 2014, following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Samba-Panza has been the acting president of the Central African Republic since January 2014.
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Last Tuesday, Women on 20s, a non-profit organization petitioning to get a woman’s face on US money, announced that after two months of two rounds of voting, Harriet Tubman was the people’s choice to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. On the surface, this seems fitting. Instead of continuing to celebrate the man responsible for the Trail of Tears, why not pay for your groceries with a bill marked by the face of a formerly-enslaved woman-turned-abolitionist who moved her people from one section of the country to the other in the name of freedom rather than for its usurpation?
I want to respond with the proverbial, “Yasss,” but I can’t. Does this move do justice to Harriet? I understand the desire to replace the overwhelmingly white male representation on our money. I understand wanting to replace the same white men who owned our ancestors, who maintained the dehumanization of black and indigenous folks, with a woman — especially a woman of color. It’s as if we get to kill two birds with one stone, tackling the dearth of representation of women with that of people of color simultaneously by pushing forward toward the materialization of the Tubman-$20.
Yet, Harriet’s position as both black and a woman demands careful attention as to what kind of progress this choice represents. There is no question that Harriet is a woman worthy of this honor. The question, instead, is whether or not we are genuinely honoring Harriet in a way that she deserves.
Harriet’s identity as a black woman means that we cannot overlook our country’s deeply-rooted relationship between race and capital in the name of recalibrating gender representation. We don't all "woman" the same way. That’s as true today as it was almost two centuries ago when Harriet was born. And it is imperative that our different legacies not be disregarded in the name of dismantling the existing patriarchy.
Take a look at Jay Smooth’s recent video. Like myself, Jay initially “signed on right away.” But with time comes reflection, as he points out, “What we’re basically talking about right now is honoring the work Harriet Tubman did to free us from slavery by putting her face on the reason we were in slavery.”
Let’s sit with that for a second.
Putting a woman’s face on a dollar bill isn’t just about women in general. Some of us first met the dollar on the auction block. Some of our fellow women bought us there. For some of us, the dollar was the currency paid to deny us our humanity, let alone our womanhood. The dollar was the dealmaker that transformed our kidnapping, our bare survival in the belly of ships above the Atlantic, the breaking of our families, of our tongues, of our customs, in the name of a country claiming to cultivate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For some of us, the dollar signifies the inherent hypocrisy of how we are American.
How can we then not take that seriously as we seek to transform the money produced in America’s name, especially as the present continues to be haunted by that past? It’s hard not to hear the echoes of drapetomania when victims, like Walter Scott, are a priori found culpable in their executions at the hands of police officers simply because they ran away. And just as the auction block seems to be but a distant memory, the words of a Brooklyn landlord and developer in a recent New York Magazine article remind us that gentrification is the new face of a uniquely American idea: “every black person has a price.”
Harriet once said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” We may not first meet America with wrists and ankles bound in physical chains today. But for every one of our babies slaughtered for the sake of impunity, for every one of our own pressured into the prison pipeline for a profit, for every one of us who is denied the right to exercise our constitutional right to free speech or is reprimanded for doing so, we are reminded that even if we are not slaves, the legacy of slavery lingers. We are reminded that we continue to live in a country obsessed with regulating our every move and with displacing us out of our homes for economic gains with little regard for the quality of our lives.
So what form of liberation has been chosen with the $20 bill? Is putting Harriet’s face on a bill anything, let alone enough? Harriet risked her life again and again for us, as black people, as Americans, to be here today. She fought for our future long before we were alive to have one. But she did so in hopes of dismantling an institution, that of slavery, which bore the racism we continue to encounter today. Does this move maintain her legacy, or make a mockery of it?
As much as I want to pay for anything I buy with a piece of paper with a woman, particularly of Harriet’s stature, looking back at me, I, like Harriet, want to act in a way that insists on creating a qualitatively different future for those who will come after me. How can we make sure changing the face of one of our bills invests in such a future? Am I, for instance, to be satisfied that one day Darren Wilson may be uncomfortable buying his child clothing with a Tubman-$20, while we continue to live in a world where a man can make a million killing a black kid in cold blood?
If the new bill is not pursued in tandem with institutional change, if both cannot be done, we may find ourselves disrespecting, rather than honoring, Harriet. We may find ourselves sacrificing Moses, derailing our collective journeys to the promise land. And for who? For “women”? Harriet wasn’t just a woman, but a black woman, and it is that fact, her existence at the intersection of race and gender, that complicates how we understand what, if any, progress is truly being pursued in the move to make her the “new” face of American capital.
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